The 14-year-old Midwest Beerfest is a great event, says Steven Haines, the import and craft brand manager at local distributor House of Schwan.
But it could be an even better one.
When the annual event returns to Century II on Oct. 17 and 18, attendees will notice some changes, particularly at the Grand Tasting, which happens from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 18. The event’s founders at the Wichita chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food are teaming up with the local craft beer community to shift the focus of the festival to the appreciation of American craft beers.
That will mean that attendees will find much less, if any, mass-produced domestic beers like Bud Light, imports like Stella Artois, or ciders, hard lemonades or vodka drinks. Instead, they’ll find an expanded list of micro brews and craft beers made in Kansas and in other U.S. states.
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“If you haven’t had Bud Light or Corona by now, you don’t need a beer fest to do that. There are plenty of places to do that,” Haines said. “This year, we’re all trying to make more of a conscious effort to make the festival more about craft beer. Its a good beer fest. We just wanted to make it more craft-beer-focused.”
The “we” to which Haines refers are craft beer aficionados in town, including Rob Miller at Goebel Liquor and Schane Gross at the Anchor.
They approached organizers with the idea to shift the focus, Haines said, and the group was receptive.
Guy Bower, a local beer and wine expert who started the event, said that he’s curious to see how the changes go over with the crowd.
“The event has been extremely successful, and I’m happy to make changes that will continue that success,” he said. “It’ll be fun to have it a little bit different.”
Haines said that the transformation will likely happen over a two- or three-year period.
In addition to changing up the beer list this year, organizers will alter the layout. Instead of beers being grouped by distributors, as they have been in the past, they’ll be grouped by regions. Festival goers will find a Kansas area, a Colorado area, a California area and more.
“We’ve always had just the Kansas section, and that was one of the most popular areas,” Haines said. “But if it’s from House of Schwan, it could be from California or Taiwan.”
Eventually, organizers hope to add more educational elements to the festival as well, including information on home brewing.
Ideally, Haines said, they want Wichita’s festival to take on the the look and feel of some of the most popular craft beer festivals in the country, including the Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition, which happens in Lawrence in March, the Great Nebraska Beerfest in Papillon, Neb., and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
Another change to this year’s festival: the food for sale at the festival will be provided by Century II’s catering instead of local restaurants. The chicken wing contest, which allows attendees to sample wings prepared by local restaurants, will happen again, too.
The Grand Tasting in Century II’s Expo Hall on Oct. 18 also will include music from Wichita Caledonian Pipes & Drums. Tickets to that are $40 and available now at 316-219-4849 or at www.wichitatix.com.
Several beer dinners that are $55 a person also will be put on at various venues the night before. The schedule will be posted soon. Those tickets are available only by calling 316-682-5502.